The endless desire of being prettier: A booming beauty industry and the body anxiety among Chinese women and men


Plastic/cosmetic surgery is no longer a rarity these days. It is still mainly women who undergo aesthetic surgery, but the demand from men is increasing. According to VDÄPC (Association of German Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons) statistics, 74.08 % of all aesthetic treatments in Germany focus on the face. The assessments of the aesthetic plastic surgeons show that the demand for cosmetic surgery has even increased during the Corona crisis. Especially the number of minimally invasive and non-invasive treatments such as Botox and hyaluron injections has increased.

Culturally, there are some differences in which changes to the body are considered. While women in the US are working on their body shape, Asians still see the face and skin as the main focus in women. Therefore, Asian women haven aesthetic plastic surgery to change their face according to the European model: bigger eyes (Buried Suture Technique), higher nose (Fillers Treatment),  narrower face contour (Bone Contouring). Staying young and attractive is also one of the most common drives for facial aesthetic procedures, such as skin whitening (Intradermal Injection) and wrinkle reducement (Photorejuvenation).

A few years ago, it was mainly women in their forties and fifties who had plastic surgery to "turn back the clock" and compete with younger women. The urge for eternal youth and the need to remain attractive to men makes many women think about cosmetic surgery. Breast lifts, liposuction or eyelid lifts seem to be a popular option to stop the natural ageing process. Nowadays, women between 20 and 30 are increasingly loyal clients of beauty clinics. They no longer consider aesthetic treatments as surgical procedures, but rather as "daily/monthly skin care" and as a kind of “me-time” – but, whether facial rejuvenation is a 100 % intrinsic motivation is doubtful.

Even though the majority holds the conviction and advocates that "inner beauty and personality counts", we often judge strangers or people we meet for the first time by his or her outer appearance. First impressions count, as the saying goes. This is especially true for a woman who is competing with hundreds of thousands of people, for example when she applies for a good job in China, or when she lives in a society where men set the tone.

The boom of social media quickly creates the illusion that the world is full of beautiful people. The desire for visible beauty is becoming stronger as people become increasingly concerned with their appearance through the influence of social media. The young women who regularly undergo cosmetic surgery have higher incomes and are therefore willing to spend more money on this investment. However, there are now more and more clinics that offer shared services and allow instalment payments, so that the costs come down to an affordable level. 

Thanks to the transparency of the internet, people now experience first-hand, how much appreciation a beautiful person receives from strangers, and more importantly, how much money strangers are willing to spend on beautiful female influencers in China. For example, a young, beautiful game host receives gifts from male viewers ranging from a few thousand Yuan (150 Euro) to 40.000 Yuan (5.000 Euro) per night.

What about men in China? Do they care about their outer beauty?

The answer is: definitely yes. But unlike women who care more about face and skin, men care more about hair. Every 1 of 5 Chinese men has alopecia (baldness), most of them are in their 20s to 40s. The massive workload as well as the unhealthy lifestyle (996: work from 9 to 9, 6 days per week) makes everything worse. Having enough hair is seen as one of the most important health attributes in the Chinese culture, which makes hair implementation (for head hair and eyebrows) the most popular surgery among male customers in China.

Meanwhile, there are also more and more men who are starting to have aesthetic procedures done on their faces. Most of them are internet influencers or celebrities or those who want to be. This has something to do with the growing economical impact from female customers/audiences (Capitalisms) and  a kind of Feminism movement in China. To put it very simply: If men have the “right” to see beautiful women and ask women to become prettier, women should also have the right to ask men to become more attractive. I am your customer, I have the money, I spend the money on you, I decide (Objectification).

While women enjoy sharing their experiences with make-up and cosmetic surgery in person and on the internet, men prefer to keep their experiences as a secret. Thus, the clinics have a VIP room for male clients to prevent them from being seen.   

Business insights:

  • Target group: Both women and men are willing to pay a lot of money on improving their outer beauty, their purchase motivation is partly intrinsic, partly extrinsic.
  • Product category: Women care about the face and skin, while men care about hair and face.
  • Communication: Women enjoy exchanging information, word of mouth is important. Men prefer to keep a low key.

In this endless competition for beauty and youthfulness, beauty industry players also play a role. For example, there are apps and devices with the "standard beautiful face" that potential consumers can use. After comparing your face with the standard face, you receive advice on which part of your face is not yet perfect and should be further treated.

On one hand, it is human nature to enjoy being appreciated by others for the outward beauty; on the other hand, there is the question of how far companies should take advantage of this before they reach the limits of ethics?


Author: Yue Liu, Spiegel Institut Mannheim

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